Pro Bowl left end Carlos Dunlap on the prowl in one of the 22 wins in last 28 PBS games.
Raucous and rowdy Paul Brown Stadium, a mausoleum for opposing quarterbacks and a playground for the Bengals' Double A Gap Blitz, is open for business again in Sunday's sold-out opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when the Bengals try to hand Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian his first loss in his third NFL start.
Since they shelved the Giants' Eli Manning on two picks for no touchdowns back on Nov. 11, 2012, the Bengals have stacked quarterbacks great and small like cordwood during the last 28 regular-season PBS games. In a 22-5-1 stretch in their building they have held opposing passers to a miserly 68.8 rating and to just 35.8 percent on third down. Everyone from Tom Brady (1-for-12 on third down) to Matt Cassell (0-for-9) has felt the wrath of the downtown din from the salty 60,000-plus.
Cincinnati Bengals host practice at Paul Brown Stadium practice fields 9/22/2016
"The 12th man," said Pro Bowl left end Carlos Dunlap after Thursday's practice. "This crowd's great. They make it hard on quarterbacks to make checks and adjustments. It's a lot easier to play in front of the home crowd. And the last couple of years it's been way louder than when I first got here. The last two or three years it's been crazy loud."
Just ask that elite class of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, who are 2-9 among those 28 games. Brady went down in a monsoon. Russell Wilson went down in overtime. Aaron Rodgers went down with his fourth-down pass that right end Michael Johnson tipped on the last play from scrimmage at the Bengals 20.
"That's what you call home-field advantage. The fans bring great energy. They know when to get loud. They know when to quiet down," Johnson said.
"It just seems loud on third down. I love playing here. It's one of the loudest places I've ever heard, especially on third down. It's tough to come into The Jungle."
And yet there has to be some unease about the little-known Siemian in Bengaldom, a countryside once rocked by someone named T.J. Yates in his first NFL start at PBS long before the Green-Dalton Era.
More angst? The man who foisted Yates on the Bengals in 2009, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak and his dizzying cut-back running game are 6-0 against the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis.
"Everybody knows the charge," said linebacker Vincent Rey. "Can we stop them from running the ball?"
"(Siemian) is in the NFL for a reason," Dunlap said. "He's a rookie when it comes to playing and supposed to make rookie mistakes, but he hasn't made them yet. So we have to force him. We want to make him throw it very much."
Right end Michael Johnson stalks the Broncos at PBS on Nov. 4, 2012. After that loss the Bengals have lost just five home games since.
Only three quarterbacks have won here in the last 28 games. The Cowboys' Tony Romo. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger twice. And Brian Hoyer twice.
Not only that, Hoyer did it for two different teams, the Browns and Texans. Not only that, the same T.J. Yates came off the bench to rescue Hoyer last year for the Texans and hand the Bengals their first loss of the season in nine games.
The Bengals are trying not to let Trevor John Siemian join that list of no-name Bengal killers.
"We take no one lightly,' said Rey of Siemian. "Especially a guy that is 2-0 … Not in this league where half the games are decided by a touchdown and more games are lost than won … Two weeks ago he played a Super Bowl team with a great defense and he brought them back from down two scores. He's able to make adjustments.
"On the first play of the season he was throwing a screen and there was a guy in his way. So he side-armed it. You don't see a guy making a play like that in his first start."
It is usually the Bengals making the plays at PBS. In the last 28 home games, only six QBs have thrown for multiple TD passes and none of them are named Brady, Rogers, Wilson, Romo, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, or Carson Palmer. (Try Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and only Big Ben won the game.) In that same span the Bengals have allowed just 27 TDs in the last 28 PBS games compared to 42 interceptions while holding passers to barely six yards per pass.
A succession of solid defensive backfields, led by current corners Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety George Iloka, and blasts from the past such as corner Leon Hall and safety Reggie Nelson, have made this a difficult place to pass.
Dunlap is part of a pressure group that has accumulated 71 sacks in the last 28 home games, so an average opposing QB stat line at PBS since Nov. 12, 2012 is 39 attempts and 23 completions for 59 percent, 236 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions (rounded up from 1.5), and 2.5 sacks.
That's not going to win many NFL tilts.
"The crowd noise is what helps our get-off," Rey said of the charge to the quarterback. "The D-linemen we have with their size on the outside and then inside timing up the snap count helps us. We do a good job of communicating. We have an idea. You know what's coming so we really don't have to hear each other. So everybody on defense knows what to do based on formation."
The strategy for this one is pretty simple. Make the newbie quarterback beat you. Pressure him into turnovers. Nose tackle Domata Peko, sitting between the Bengals' top two pass rushers from last year, the Pro Bowlers Dunlap and Geno Atkins, pointed to them and said, "Stop the run and get these guys next to me after him."
Siemian has been a true caretaker. In eight of the 10 categories for rating passers, he is as high as 25th and as low as 31st in eight of them. According to profootballfocus.com, he has targeted just two balls of at least 20 yards down field and completed one. His 59 attempts are 28th in the league and he's got one touchdown with three picks. They've run the ball one more time than they've thrown it.
Those would seem to be numbers that won't fare well at the PBS of the last 28 games But Siemian is 2-0, his three picks have come deep in enemy territory, he's doing exactly what Kubiak wants, and that gets a lot of regard in the Bengals locker room.
Domata Peko (94) and Carlos Dunlap (96) converge on the Jets in 2013, when the defense fueled a perfect home record.
"It's tough place to be. Our crowd is awesome. We love playing here. Third down for the offense is tough here," Peko said. "You want your crowd loud and proud and get after this young quarterback. He's real young. He's going to have to make a lot of calls. We're going to go get him. There's going to be a lot on his plate."
Now they have to stop running back C.J. Anderson, the Denver back that has carried it 20 times per game and leads the NFL with seven carries of at least 10 yards. His 39-yard TD run in last year's OT win over the Bengals in Denver to decide the AFC's top seed was a back-breaker. It gave Denver a 17-14 lead and they never trailed en route to a 20-17 overtime win.
Peko has seen so much of Kubiak's cut-block scheme, he can see it in his sleep. He says the Bengals have a "chip,' on their shoulder from Anderson's 39-yarder, a classic Kubiak cut-back.
"He ran it out the back door after he cut it all the way back," Peko said. "They're going to run zone, run zone, run zone, and then run boot-leg off it. We've been playing against it for a while. We have to be able to make sure we stay on our feet on those zone runs and cutbacks. We have to make sure we stay back side and don't get chopped down. This quarterback, we have to hit and he hasn't been hit too much."
But, finally, the Bengals are back home.
"There's been a lot of Double A Gap sacks right out here," Rey said. "We just feel good about playing in our home environment. We play tough. I don't care what it is. When you've got people cheering for you, you get pumped up. Even when you're tired … I love playing at home."